Tag Archives: hospitality

It’s True, Tourism Touches All of Our Lives

January 19, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Astonished. That’s the word that describes colleagues, friends, family, and groups when they learn what tourism looks like in our city. Ask a family member or friend to guess how many visitors come to Omaha each year and chances are their answer will not even come close. New research shows 12.3 million visitors travel to Omaha each year—that’s more than the total population of Portugal or Greece. They visit for weekend getaways, to see family and friends, to attend conferences, sporting events and concerts, and to conduct business. And while here they spend money. Visitors spend $1.2 billion every year at our restaurants, attractions, hotels, retail shops, and other enterprises. Their spending contributes to our local economy, tax revenue, community development, and other important benefits we all enjoy.

Visitor spending also creates jobs—17,280 of them. One in every 17 jobs in Omaha is supported by visitor spending, which means you probably know someone who has a job in tourism, or has a job thanks to tourism. In fact, tourism is the eighth largest private sector employer in Omaha. 

Still don’t think your life is touched by tourism? Let’s talk taxes. Taxes generated by visitor spending saves each Douglas County household $730 per year. If visitors stop coming to Omaha and stop spending their money here, your taxes would go up or the current level of government services would go down. We would also see a significant number of jobs lost in the tourism industry if visitors did not show up.    

You can help Omaha’s tourism numbers grow even bigger. Keep inviting family and friends to visit. If your business, association, or industry hosts meetings, conferences, trade shows, reunions, or any other special event, invite them to Omaha and provide an economic boost to our economy.

After seeing the numbers, people get it—tourism is a big deal and a great deal for our city.

Visit Omaha can help.

If bringing a meeting home seems overwhelming to you, Visit Omaha, Omaha’s official tourism authority, is here to help at no cost.  Visit Omaha has the expertise and resources to help make your meeting or event, a success. Check out visitomaha.com/meetings to start planning your event.

Keith Backsen is executive director of the Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau.

This column was printed in the February/March 2018 edition of B2B.

Underdogs and Frontrunners in the Omaha Mayoral Race

February 21, 2017 by
Photography by Christopher Geary photos by Bill Sitzmann, all others contributed

Running for the office of Omaha mayor seems surprisingly accessible for any registered voter age 25 or older who is an Omaha resident of six months or more: Pay a $100 filing fee, complete a notarized candidate filing form and a statement of financial interests form, and submit a petition signed by 1,000 registered Omaha voters.

As the March/April issue of Omaha Magazine went to press, 10 individuals had taken out paperwork from the Douglas County Election Commission (the first step to getting on the ballot in hopes of being elected to the nonpartisan office that pays $102,312 annually for a four-year term starting in June). But in the months before the election, only about half of the potential candidates had developed and promoted detailed campaign platforms through polished websites, social media channels, and savvy media relations efforts. Several of those receiving less pronounced media attention have articulated core issues that range from legalizing marijuana, to improving the lives of local lower- and middle-income families, to touting free speech.

Douglas County Election Commissioner Brian W. Kruse says it’s unlikely all 10 will make it to the ballot for the April 4 primary based on precedent: Although seven candidates qualified for the 2013 primary, there were just five in 2009, only two in both 2005 and 2001, and three in 1997. (The two candidates with the highest number of votes advance to the general election, May 9 this cycle.) Self-promotion isn’t the only challenge for potential candidates, Kruse says.

“Especially with the mayoral candidates, we do hear quite a bit how hard it is to get 1,000 signatures that are accepted. It takes work, you know?” he says. Some well-meaning signers are discovered during the painstaking verification process to not be registered to vote or not registered in the correct jurisdiction, he explains. Candidates are encouraged to obtain extra signatures and complete paperwork well before the March 3 filing deadline. If time allows, they can correct paperwork errors or omissions or even gather more signatures if they come up short or cut it close.

“We would feel terrible if someone turned theirs in on March 3 and they had 995 signatures, because there’s nothing they can do at that point,” he says. “In our office, we will certify to 110 percent. We try to turn them around pretty quickly; the mayor (incumbent Jean Stothert) turned her signatures in on a Wednesday, and we were done by Friday afternoon. Often candidates will call and check with us on how it’s going, and we’ll give them updates. We try to be as customer service-friendly as possible … We’re here to serve the voters and the citizens of Douglas County.”

Christopher Geary, a martial arts teacher/studio owner and former Marine, is a newcomer to the mayoral race. He and the current mayor were the first to meet the credentials needed to appear on the ballot, receiving confirmation from the commission Jan. 6.

 

“I feel that service to others is not only something people should do, but it’s an obligation we all should embrace. I have run for office before and I feel that now is the perfect time to serve the City of Omaha, which has been my home for three decades … Omaha is an awesome city with a fantastic history and people. The diversity of communities and how we come together in hard times is really inspiring,” Geary says. “I have a vision for Omaha that brings government, business, and citizens together to improve living conditions for everyone by increasing job opportunities, helping businesses grow and prosper, and provide training for those seeking employment.”

Geary has made the unusual decision to not accept campaign contributions. “I think a candidate for any office should be free and clear of anyone or any group that would try to manipulate them once they are in office,” he says.

He also will not participate in debates, he adds. “Political debates end up being personal attacks on one another and rarely stay on point. Candidates will only say what people want to hear with memorized speeches and can easily stump the other candidates with facts they don’t have access to. Voters that watch or listen to these debates will not receive the necessary information to make informed decisions regarding his or her candidate.”

Mayoral candidate Taylor Royal

Another mayoral hopeful, certified public accountant Taylor Royal, is entirely new to politics.

“I have always had the heart to serve the public and make my hometown better for everyone, but the urgency to run for mayor originated when I moved back to Omaha two years ago,” he says, explaining that he was impressed with the business climate and other opportunities in Dallas, where he lived for four years as he earned his master’s degree and launched his career.

“Moving back to Omaha in 2015 was a different story. The same old problems that plagued our city when I was growing up were still prevalent, and new problems were surfacing,” Royal says. “I want to be mayor of Omaha to create a more business-friendly and community-friendly Omaha. I believe my new vision for Omaha will join our community together to solve our challenges and make Omaha the place to be for families and businesses.”

Royal received early media attention for his proposal to build a football stadium and bring an NFL team to Omaha, but his platform also includes unlocking new sources of revenue, looking for strategic opportunities to outsource, improving street maintenance, and revitalizing North Omaha. Citizens have been receptive, he says.

“My campaign experience to date has been a confirmation of what I already knew about the people in Omaha,” he says. “Omaha is a city filled with people who display unmatched hospitality and incredible diversity, and my candidacy has received a warm welcome from the residents.”

Candidate Heath Mello, who comes into the mayoral race fresh from two terms in the Nebraska Legislature, says engagement is key to winning an election.

“Looking back, I was probably most surprised by how important it was to spend more time knocking on doors and meeting with voters than doing anything else. Spending quality time with people in their homes, churches, and senior centers proved to be so much more meaningful to me throughout the campaign than any speech, fundraiser, meeting, or parade,” he says, estimating that he knocked on more than 12,000 doors in his first race alone.

Engagement then transfers to successfully serving the public, he adds.

“I worked hard for eight years as a state senator to keep that kind of personal engagement through town halls, neighborhood roundtables, knocking on doors, and proactively connecting with neighbors,” he says. And he’s taking that approach through his bid for Omaha mayor with a platform that includes plans to reduce crime, improve city services, create jobs, and foster collaboration.

“From Belvedere to Deer Park, Blackstone to Elkhorn, and everywhere in between, I am continuing to knock on doors and visit with small businesses to learn more about how Omahans want to help shape our great city for the next 20 years and how we can collectively create a smarter, more innovative city.”

Incumbent Stothert emphasizes safety of Omaha’s citizens as her top priority in her bid for re-election. “There is no issue we work harder on than reducing crime and apprehending and prosecuting those who commit crimes. I am proud of our police department and our work with community partners to make Omaha a safer community.”

Her motivation for running again is simple: “I love my job, and it is a privilege to serve as mayor.” Stothert notes, however, that running for re-election has both advantages and challenges.

“During the past 3 1/2 years, we have provided leadership, accomplished priorities, and worked with partners on community projects. This experience provides me the opportunity to highlight what we have accomplished, something you can’t provide as a first-time candidate,” she says. On the other hand, “Four years ago, I could spend most my time campaigning by meeting voters throughout the city and visiting people in their homes. While I am doing that again during this election, I also know my work and commitments as mayor must come first. Even though I have less time to campaign, I believe the best politics is doing a good job so we work hard to make sure Omaha is on the right track.”

Information on the election process or candidates is readily available, Kruse says, and he’s hoping for a good turnout for both the primary and general elections with 182 polling places open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Visit votedouglascounty.com or call 402-444-VOTE to reach the Douglas County Election Commission for more information.

TEN MAYORAL HOPEFULS

As of press time, 10 prospective candidates had begun the paperwork process to enter the mayoral race. To appear on the ballot, they must obtain and file 1,000 signatures from registered voters who reside in Omaha by March 3. Contact information is based on Douglas County Election Commission public records and online information (listed alphabetically by surname).

Bernard Choping

  • Phone: 402-917-5149

Mark Elworth

  • Phone: 402-812-1600
  • E-mail: markelworthjr@aol.com
  • Twitter: @markjr4gov

Christopher Geary

  • Phone: 402-905-6865
  • Website: geary2017.com
  • E-mail: christophergeary@gmail.com

J.B. Medlock

  • Phone: 402-302-0000 and 402-213-2095

Heath Mello

  • Website: heathmello.com
  • E-mail: info@heathmello.com
  • Twitter: @heathmello

Ean Mikale

  • Website: mikaleformayor.com
  • Twitter: @mikaleformayor

Taylor Royal

  • Website: taylorjroyal.com
  • E-mail: royalformayor@gmail.com

Jean Stothert

  • Phone: 402-506-6623
    Website: jeanstothert.com
  • E-mail: info@jeanstothert.com
  • Twitter: @jean_stothert

Mort Sullivan

  • Website: mortsullivan.com
  • E-mail: mdsullivan@cisusa.info

Jerome Wallace

  • Phone: 314-495-0545

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

 

Women’s Impact on Tourism

December 20, 2016 by

Who makes the travel decisions in your family? I am betting the majority of you will answer, “I do” (if you are a woman) or “my wife/girlfriend does” (if you are a man). It is typically the woman who plans the family vacations, it is the woman who figures out a way to get the cousins together for a reunion, and it is usually the woman who figures out the logistics of taking their child on college visits. It is also more than likely a woman who plans all the business trips in your office. Experts estimate that women make 70-80 percent of all consumer purchasing decisions, which includes the $947 billion spent on travel each year. 

Not only are they making the travel decisions, more and more women are traveling. At the Women in Travel & Tourism conference early this year, it was revealed that the average traveler was once a 28-year-old male—now it’s a 47-year-old female. This is one of the reasons the advertising we use to convince consumers to travel to Omaha targets women between the ages of 25-54.

Women make the majority of the travel decisions, and on the other side of the coin they also make up nearly 70 percent of the travel, tourism, and hospitality workforce. Think about it: who normally checks you in at the hotel, cleans your hotel room, serves you at the restaurant, takes your ticket at the airport, and plans most of the events, meetings, and conventions? Women. However, experts contend there is a marked underrepresentation of women in senior positions, with women holding less than 40 percent of all managerial positions.

This isn’t the case at Visit Omaha, Omaha’s official tourism authority, where 82 percent of the staff are women and 57 percent of the senior leadership team are women, including our V.P. of convention sales and our V.P. of marketing and communications. If women make up a significant portion of your customer base, it makes sense that they should be represented on management teams. Research shows that companies with gender-balanced teams have a higher ROI, and those are numbers we can all support.

Keith Backsen is executive director of the Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau

Keith Backsen is executive director of the Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau

The Tavern

March 13, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Before September, potential patrons looking to get a drink might have stopped just short of The Tavern—not realizing that a bar was down the street. However, after a few renovations and a name change, patrons can now clearly see the updated bar.

Formerly The Old Market Tavern, the bar has changed more than just its name since David Kerr and Dave Haverkamp purchased it in July. One of the most unique changes is the addition of a 105-year-old Brunswick bar.

“It was in the Muehlebach Hotel, and Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and every president from when it was installed until Ronald Reagan stayed at that hotel when they were in Kansas City, so you have to assume that many of them probably sat down at that bar,” Haverkamp says.

Still, the addition of the historic bar was only part of the changes the duo made. In a whirlwind six days, Kerr and Haverkamp closed down the bar to begin renovations that included getting rid of a platform that split the bar in half lengthways, creating a congested area for guests trying to get a drink.

“We had the floor redone as well,” Kerr says, “and we brought in church pews as a part of the furnishings, and we took a wall down as well in the back. It was like a small dart room, so we knocked that wall down, and we renovated the bathrooms as well. It was a diet of pizza and Red Bull just to get through the six days, but it was good.”

Kerr, who has a background in both hospitality and marketing, also decided to light the awning outside and revamp The Tavern’s logo to give the bar a more modern feel. Kerr added a colored, flashing LED light above the logo as well so that patrons can see the bar from 10th Street.

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Both Kerr and Haverkamp took a bartending class in South Beach to revamp their bartending skills. They usually bartend once or twice a week now at The Tavern, but bartending or not, they’re at the bar every day talking to customers. They claim it’s their favorite part of the day. Both owners are proud of their famous Moscow Mule and hope to add more specialty cocktails and perhaps even a food menu. But they’re most excited about the Scottish soda-infused cocktails.

“There’s a soda from Scotland which outsells Coca-Cola, and I’ve had that shipped over from Scotland,” Kerr says, “so we can actually start using it in cocktails. You can’t miss it. It’s bright orange.”

When Kerr and Haverkamp bought The Tavern last July, they ran the bar the way it was for two months to learn about the customers and to get a feel for what changes needed to be made. One result of this observation period was to change the name only slightly from The Old Market Tavern to simply The Tavern. “The reason why we didn’t completely change the name is because we really want this to be kind of a local place to go. That’s how we envisioned it,” Haverkamp says. “Yeah, it’s a neighborhood bar, but we wanted it to be homey. But the products are good, and the cocktails are good, and you know…we offer something a little bit different,” Kerr says.